A few years ago, I sat at a roundtable book discussion featuring Michael Ledeen and his then new book — The War Against the Terror Masters: Why it Happened. Where We Are Now. How We’ll Win — hosted by BMW North America in Washington.
These BMW sessions are great — and have included authors such as John Judis on American democracy, Stephen Hess on American political dynasties, Paul Blustein on the IMF and the East Asia economic crisis, Joel Kotkin on the future of American cities, as well as Sid Blumenthal, Arianna Huffington, Joe Klein, Dana Priest, David Frum (who called me “lunkheaded” on one occasion), Michael Barone, and David Brooks. Jim Pinkerton is the essential ingredient that makes these forums so interesting — and he along with renaissance-type thinker/politico Craig Helsing gets around the table some of the leading policy practitioners and pontificators in town.
And then one day he had Michael Ledeen and me to lunch with some others.
Ledeen is a character, but so are we all in one way or another — but Ledeen’s eccentricities have not precluded him from significant influence in this administration. He has been very close to Douglas Feith, John Bolton, Scooter Libby, and perhaps most importantly — Vice President Cheney.
I’m not going to report all that Josh Marshall, Laura Rozen, and others have already reported on Ledeen.
Suffice it to say that he has been on the periphery of nearly all the foreign policy scandals of the administration. He is a business partner of Richard Perle’s and yet the Washington Post used him as a talking head in defense of Perle during the Conrad Black scandal without mentioning Perle’s business relationship with Ledeen. Ledeen set up some key meetings between arms dealer and Iran-Contra ghost Manucher Ghorbanifar and now-indicted Larry Franklin, Douglas Feith, and Harold Rhodes.
There are rumors now — strong rumors — of a classified Italian intelligence report that may implicate Michael Ledeen for alleged complicity in either helping to “generate,” “legitimate,” and “promulgate” forged documents about Iraq’s attempts to secure uranium from Niger. There are some good investigative journalists trying to access this report.
Back to lunch.
Ledeen made very clear during his lunch commentary that he supported Bush’s invasion of Iraq only to get to Iran, which was in his view America’s and Israel’s real enemy. Iraq was a stepping stone to greater things. I have no doubt that Ledeen and many who supported the invasion of Iraq thought it would indeed be a “cake-walk” because they never expected the resource constraints — manpower and financial — in following up Iraq with military action against Iran.
While Michael Ledeen sharing with a small number of people his real intentions on Iran does not make an action plan or conspiracy, we do need to be aware that like-minded neoconservatives have been thinking about both Iraq and Iran over lunch and dinner salon sessions for years. They have been very good at recruiting like-minded thinkers and strategists, and opportunistically coaxing parts of the administration to push their agenda around the President.
As a friend told me this weekend, George Bush did not go to war because of Judy Miller. But in my view, Miller’s reporting shaped the “public” environment so that Bush could better get away with the sleight-of-hand regarding their intentions and rationale for the Iraq War.
One could similarly argue that (if involved) Michael Ledeen alone could not have created and driven forward the Niger/Uranium claims. There were many complicit hands involved in forging and pushing these documents, and to be fair, no one has yet proven Ledeen’s exact role, if any.
If Bush or Israel strike Iran’s nuclear facilities, few will say that Michael Ledeen was responsible “alone” for that decision. Of course not.
But privately, around the salon lunch and dinner tables that Michael Ledeen, his close friends, and groupies occupy, I think that there may be a sense of satisfaction that yes, they took America and/or Israel to war against Iran.
— Steve Clemons